Outcomes of COP21 and the IPCC

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which provides policymakers with scientific information about climate change, made a big contribution to the Paris Agreement to tackle global warming. The Agreement in turn has major implications for the work of the IPCC. This article examines these implications and what the IPCC is doing to help implement The Agreement.

What is the IPCC?

The IPCC was set up by the World Meteorological Organizations and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) to provide the world with a clear view of the state of knowledge on climate change and its potential environmental and social-economic impacts. To do this, the IPCC reviews and assesses the most recent scientific, technical and socio-economic information produced worldwide relevant to the understanding of climate change and provides policymakers with an assessment of what is known and not known about climate change and what can be done about it.

It is a unique partnership between governments who are members of the IPCC and the scientific community who work on the assessments. An underlying principle of the Panel is that its work is policy relevant without being policy prescriptive.


One of the most important indicators of the policy relevance of the work of the IPCC is the use of its reports in international climate negotiations like the Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  As stated on the UNFCCC website, the COP uses the information in IPCC reports as a baseline on the state of knowledge on climate change when making science based decisions.

Since science underpins the work of the Climate Change Convention, the IPCC works closely with UNFCCC’s Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA). With its most recent report, the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), the IPCC presented its finding to SBSTA. The IPCC also took part in the Structured Expert Dialogue and Research Dialogue initiatives which provided the negotiators with an in-depth understanding of the scientific issues and contributed to their negotiations in the run up to the Paris Agreement.

IPCC and the Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement reached at COP21 last December mentions the IPCC several times. The Agreement aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit the rise in global average temperature to well below 2ºC above pre-industrial levels, with an effort to limit the increase to 1.5ºC. It will to do this through measures set by each country – Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – and reviewed regularly. Each Party shall regularly provide information on anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases, using methodologies accepted by the IPCC and agreed by the COP. As a result of this, the IPCC at its 43rd Session in April decided to refine and update these methodologies by May 2019 in order to provide a sound scientific basis for future international climate action especially under the Paris Agreement. Work on this is already underway and a decision on  the outline of a Methodology Report to supplement the current 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories will be made at the 44th Session of the IPCC scheduled for 17–20 October. 

In decision 1/CP.21 of the Paris Agreement, Parties invited the IPCC to provide by 2018, a Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways. The 43rd Session of the IPCC Session accepted this invitation and work has started on the Special Report. The outline of the report will be approved at the Panel’s 44th Session in October 2016. The Special Report will be finalized in September 2018 in time for the initial facilitative dialogue, which will be a first informal review under the global stocktake process.

The Parties also requested SBSTA to advise them on how IPCC assessments can inform the global stocktake of the implementation of the Paris Agreement. Under the Agreement, Parties are set to make an initial informal review of their collective efforts to reach their goals in 2018, and starting in 2023 they will hold a global stocktake every five years. Since the global stocktake will use the latest reports of the IPCC as one of its inputs, the IPCC also agreed to consider by 2018 how best to align its work during the Seventh Assessment Report (which will take place from 2023-2028) with the needs of the global stocktake process. During the UNFCCC summer meetings in May, a SBSTA-IPCC special event took place in Bonn, Germany, which allowed for an open exchange of views between Parties and representatives of the IPCC on how the Panel’s Assessments can inform the global stocktake.

IPCC and the 22nd Conference of the Parties

IPCC Chair COP21IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee speaking during the high level event of COP 21 in Paris, France on 7 December 2015

During the COP22 meetings in Marrakesh, Morocco in November, the IPCC will host two side events. The first one, entitled “Refinement of the 2006 IPCC Guideline: Enhancing transparency in support of the Paris Agreement,” will be held at lunch time on 7 November. This side event will present the approved outline of the methodology report to supplement IPCC’s 2006 Guidelines.

On the evening of 14 November 2016, the IPCC will be presenting its work plan for the next 6 years and showing how the planned IPCC products support the implementation of the Paris Agreement. The side event is rightly titled “Responding to Paris: the IPCC's programme for the coming years”. The event will be an opportunity to discuss the timing of the different products that the IPCC will produce during its Sixth Assessment Cycle. These include three Special Reports, a Methodology Report and the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6).In addition to the Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, the IPCC will produce two more Special Reports in 2019. One will be on climate change and oceans and the cryosphere; and the other on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems.

The Working Group contributions to the AR6 will be delivered in 2021 and the AR6 Synthesis Report in the first half of 2022 well in time for the COP to use its findings during the first global stocktake set to take place in 2023.

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